Azerbaijan President raises national flag in capital of Nagorno-Karabakh


Azerbaijan‘s President as he kneels down in front of a national flag of Azerbaijan in the town of Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh region. 

Azerbaijan‘s President as he kneels down in front of a national flag of Azerbaijan in the town of Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh region. 
| Photo Credit: AFP

President Ilham Aliyev raised Azerbaijan's flag in the main city of Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday, cementing Baku's conquest of the region after last month's lightening offensive that led to an exodus of ethnic Armenians.

It was Mr. Aliyev's first visit to the city — which Azerbaijan calls Khankendi and Armenia calls Stepanakert — since it fell to Armenian separatists in the early 1990s.

Baku published images of Mr. Aliyev touring Karabakh after his forces swept through the mountainous region in a 24-hours September offensive that ended three decades of Armenian separatist rule.

“President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has raised the National Flag of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the city of Khankendi and delivered a speech,” Mr. Aliyev's office said in a statement.

The vast majority of the estimated 1,20,000 ethnic Armenians that had been living in the territory have since fled to Armenia.

Images of Karabakh's main city after the Azerbaijani offensive showed a ghost town.

Mr. Aliyev's trip came exactly 20 years since he became president of Azerbaijan. Throughout his authoritarian rule he has vowed to bring Karabakh back under Azerbaijani control.

Baku published images of the longtime leader in military attire on his knees, kissing the Azerbaijani flag before it was raised on a pole.

It said he also visited a reservoir and an ancient fortress, as well as other towns.

The 61-year-old posed in front of mountains and water, holding pomegranates — a fruit associated with the region — in one of the photographs.

Mr. Aliyev's visit came as Pope Francis on Sunday called for the protection of Karabakh's ancient Christian Armenian monasteries and churches.

The Catholic leader spoke after his traditional Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's Square in Rome:

“Beyond the humanitarian situation of the displaced people, which is serious, I would like to appeal for the protection of the monasteries and places of worship in the region.”

He called on the new authorities and “all inhabitants” to respect the places of worship “in an expression of faith and a sign of a fraternity that allows us to live together in our differences.”

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing” in Karabakh, which Baku denies.

Mr. Aliyev's trip came after he met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at a meeting of ex-Soviet leaders in Kyrgyzstan, which Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not attend.

While Mr. Aliyev did not go to a European summit for talks with Pashinyan earlier this month, his office has said that he intends to travel for Brussels talks with the Armenian leader.

Mr. Aliyev became President of Azerbaijan in 2003, succeeding his father Heydar Aliyev.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh since the dying days of the Soviet Union.

The mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh was populated mainly by Armenians and became part of Azerbaijan under Soviet rule, in the years following the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917.

The neighbours went to war twice over the territory: in the 1990s and in 2020.

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